5 Phases of Hacking

Hacking in nutshell means identifying and exploiting weakness in a computer system or gaining unauthorized access to a victim’s computer. This gaining of unauthorized access or exploiting weakness in a computer system typically involves series of phases, that a hacker has to go through. These 5 phases of Ethical Hacking usually include:

  • Reconnaissance (Information Gathering)
  • Scanning
  • Gaining Access
  • Maintaining Access
  • Clearing Tracks

Reconnaissance (Information Gathering)

Reconnaissance is also known as Information Gathering. In this phase of ethical hacking an attacker collects as much information as possible about the victim or the network. This information provides a clear understanding about the target’s weaknesses and potential entry points.

Reconnaissance or Footprinting serves as the blueprint for the entire hacking process. Just like a skilled architect meticulously plans a building’s foundation before construction, Hackers also gather comprehensive information before attacking any computer system or network. By obtaining crucial details, hackers can identify weakness in the target, that will be helpful for them to perform attacks accordingly in the future.

Reconnaissance can broadly classified into two main types. Active and Passive:

  1. Active:- Active reconnaissance is the process where we directly interact with the target, by using the techniques like Network Scanning, Social Engineering, Email Tracing etc. These techniques can be done with the help of various tools like Nmap, nslookup, dig etc.
  2. Passive:- Passive Reconnaissance involves gathering information without directly interacting with the target system or network. This involves gathering information about the target that is available on the social media platforms, websites and domain name research.


Scanning is the second phase of Ethical Hacking. During this phase, a hacker scan or you can say investigate the target’s system. It is the phase where the hacker finds out the way to gain access in the system. Here the hacker use the various tools, like Nmap, Nexpose to identify live hosts, open ports and potential security weakness.

There are mainly three types of Scanning, which includes Port Scanning, Network Mapping and Vulnerability Scanning.

  • Port Scanning:- Port scanning involves inquiring a target’s network to discover open ports and services. By doing this hackers can understand the potential entry points and path for exploitation. Tools like Nmap offer a range of scanning techniques, including SYN, TCP Connect and UDP scanning.
  • Network Mapping:- Network mapping goes beyond ports and services. Here the hacker finds the topology of a network,  routers, firewalls etc, then he draw a network diagram with this information. This technique will provide a comprehensive view of the target’s digital landscape and also helps ethical hackers to visualize the network’s layout, connectivity and relationships between devices and systems.
  • Vulnerability Scanning:- In this type of scanning, an Ethical Hacker checks the weakness in the target device, that may let Blackhat hackers to get in and cause problems. Vulnerability Scanning is usually done with the help of some tools like Nmap.

Gaining Access

Gaining Access is the 3rd phase of Ethical Hacking. In this phase an Ethical Hacker use their special knowledge and tools to get access into computer systems or websites. They don’t use this knowledge to do anything bad; instead, they do it to find out if the computer system has any hidden doors that shouldn’t be there.

Think of like a Security Guide, who patrols and inspects private or government buildings to prevent theft, fire or any other malicious activity. Ethical hackers are no different from them. During this Gaining access phase they try to open hidden doors of a system in a safe way to see if they can get inside.

If they get access into the system, that means a malicious hacker might also be able to do it. So, the ethical hackers tell the owners of the computer system about this, so they can do something to prevent this and keep everything safe.

Maintaining Access

This phase is the most critical phase among all the phases of ethical hacking. In this phase, an Ethical Hacker maintain the presence within the compromised system or network in order to gather more information, monitor activities and potentially identify further vulnerabilities. This phase is performed under the strict ethical guidelines and with the permission of an organization. It aims to copy the actions of Blackhat hackers, in order to prevent them for doing any suspicious activity.

Here is a detailed overview of the steps involved in the maintaining access phase of Ethical Hacking.

  • Backdoors:- Ethical Hackers often set up backdoors to ensure they can regain access even if their initial entry point is closed. This might involve creating user accounts, installing remote access tools or manipulating system settings to allow remote control.
  • Monitoring and Information Gathering:- Once access is maintained, the Ethical Hacker can gather more detailed information about the system’s operations, vulnerabilities and potential risks. This involves monitoring network traffic, observing user activities and studying system logs, to specify any oddness or security weaknesses.
  • Expanding Access:- Ethical Hackers might explore the network to identify additional entry points or vulnerabilities. They attempt to move laterally within the environment, potentially compromising other systems, services or accounts.
  • Remain Secretive:- Ethical Hackers often maintain a low profile to avoid detection by security monitoring systems. They might use techniques such as modifying logs, deleting evidence of their activities & encrypting their communication.
  • Documentation:- During the entire process, Ethical Hackers carefully records every action, discovery and observation. This record-keeping is essential for generating a thorough report that highlights the identified vulnerabilities, the actions performed and suggestions for fixing them.

Clearing Tracks

This is the 5th 5 phases or you can also say last phase of Ethical Hacking. Here an Ethical Hacker removes all the evidences of activities from the system or network. This is an important phase of the Ethical Hacking. It is aimed to pretend the actions of a malicious attacker who may attempt to cover their tracks, in order to avoid detection.

Here’s an overview of the steps involved in the clearing tracks phase of ethical hacking:

  • Removing Log Entries:- Ethical Hackers often target log files that record system activities, user actions and network traffic. By deleting or modifying these log entries, they can eliminate evidence of their activities.
  • Covering Network Traffic:- If Ethical Hackers intercepted or manipulated network traffic, they might attempt to conceal their actions by restoring the original state of the traffic or manipulating the logs to hide their presence.
  • Deleting Files:- Ethical Hackers must have to delete files, scripts and tools that they have used during the testing process to compromise the system or network.
  • Reverting System Settings:- If Ethical Hackers have made changes to system settings or configurations, they must revert these changes to their original state.
  • Delating Data:- If Ethical Hackers have collected sensitive data during the testing process, they must delete this data from the compromised systems to ensure that it doesn’t fall into the wrong hands.

So these are the 5 phases of Ethical Hacking. It’s important to note that Ethical Hacking should always be conducted with proper authorization and within legal and ethical boundaries. The only goal of Ethical Hackers is to improve security and protect systems from malicious hackers, rather then causing harm or stealing any type data from the system.

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5 Phases of Hacking

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